Advertising for HBO's 'True Blood' Bends Truth a Bit

Campaign Includes Faux Blog, Faux Cinema Ads and Faux Free Daily

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- With its tales of vampires who walk among us, HBO's "True Blood" series certainly blurs the lines of what is real and what is fantastic. Now the Time Warner cable network's ad campaign for the series is trying to do the same.

True Blood

"True Blood" promos have received lots of attention over the last week, thanks in part to a bit of online brouhaha over the seeming addition of Bloodcopy, an adverblog HBO created last year to promote the show, to Gawker Media, the operator of such blogs as Gawker and Jezebel. What's more, the cable outlet has unveiled print ads that seem to promote real products and services from Geico, Gillette, BMW's Mini Cooper, Harley-Davidson, Ecko and Monster -- but act as if the audiences for these popular goods are vampires.

Next up, an advertorial in Conde Nast Publications' Vanity Fair that features famous people hobnobbing with vampires at buzzy events, and an eight-page take-off of AM New York, the free metro daily, that will be distributed to commuters.

HBO's idea is to play along "that fine line of fully disrupting someone's experience and at the same time immersing them in your experience," said Zach Enterlin, VP-advertising and promotions for HBO.

This marks HBO's second effort to generate attention for "True Blood," which portrays a world in which the development of a synthetic blood product in Japan has allowed vampires to "come out" of their coffins, as it were, with all kinds of cultural ramifications. Starting last May, HBO began sending mailers to vampire hobbyists and bloggers; set up the website BloodCopy.com, which featured discussions and a blog (and has now returned); distributed viral videos; and, most memorable of all, perhaps, delivered samples of a red beverage known as "Tru Blood," while distributing ads for the drink online and in alternative weeklies.

The ads may have helped create a community of fans for the program. While the first episode of "True Blood" snared about 1.44 million viewers in its first telecast, the audience built steadily during the show's first season, according to Nielsen. By the first run of the season finale, the audience had increased to more than 2.44 million. On average, the first season of "True Blood" attracted about 2.02 million live and same-day viewers for first-run episodes, according to Nielsen.

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Does HBO worry about consumers actually believing some of these promotions? Already, the Gawker-BloodCopy.com alliance has generated some controversy online. "The goal isn't to really mislead at all," Mr. Enterlin said. "It's just igniting curiosity. I think the way the ads are done, there's a certain amount of known quantity with a wink. It inspires a double take. We're trying to make them as authentic as possible, but it's an absolute necessity that they have that element of 'wink.'"

The campaign contains many other elements, including evening weather reports on radio for vampires who might just be starting their day; a faux ad for movie theaters made to look like the ads for local businesses that normally appear before the show starts; and a faux weekly newsmagazine set to appear on HBO on Demand and HBO internet platforms that includes a segment called "The Vampire Report." That segment will cover "notable events that have occurred over the past week as vampires continue their integration into human society," according to HBO.

In a sign of the complexity these ideas require, HBO is working with six different creative and media-buying agencies. New York-based Campfire is the creative force behind the Bloodcopy.com blog, as well as some viral videos that will be issued as part of the campaign. Another agency, Digital Kitchen, crafted the "vampire product" ad, while Ignition has been working on ads that drive viewers to tune in to the program. Another agency, Red Creative, worked on online ads to entice viewers to tune in. Omnicom Group's PHD placed the more traditional advertising, while Deep Focus did online media buying for certain parts of the campaign.

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